One after the other, teenagers in jeans and sneakers, retirees in slacks and shined shoes, denounced the war in Iraq yesterday and said it was not over.
The crowd overflowed the pews and packed the aisles at the National City Christian Church on Thomas Circle, saying the war is a long way from ending. Their own battle against what they called imperialistic U.S. intentions is just beginning, participants said
An overflow crowd at National City Christian Church applauds a speaker at a teach-in to revitalize opposition to Bush administration policies.
"It's very clear who is benefiting from the war, and it's very clear who is losing," Khury Petersen-Smith, a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a founder of the Campus Anti-War Network told the crowd.
"No Blood For Oil" read his red and black shirt.
Numbering about 1,000, the people who turned up were a cross section of the diversity that has marked the antiwar movement in the Washington area. They were white and black and Asian and Latino. They spoke English and Spanish, and here and there were snatches of French or German. Whites and blacks were there in large numbers; so were Asians and Hispanics.
They denounced the war and the occupation of Iraq, and they deplored domestic policies and administration priorities that they contended allow limitless military spending while critical social needs go unmet.
All of them came, they said, because the fight did not end the day President Bush declared an end to the war in Iraq. They came, they said, because they are worried about the direction of the country, domestically and internationally. And some expressed fear about the intentions of their government.
Iraq, said Rami Sabyani, 16, is only the beginning. "The same thing is going to happen to other countries," he said as he found his way to a seat with his mother, who had encouraged him to come. "It's just not right."
The war, Layla Said, his mother, said, was an affront to the world. "It's a matter of dignity," said Said, who was born in Yemen and is a clothing designer in Fairfax.
The aftermath of the conflict has vindicated the fears -- inability to find weapons of mass destruction, continuing disorder in Iraq -- that people in the peace movement expressed during the buildup to the war, they said.
"We were not wrong," the Rev. Graylan S. Hagler of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ said in an opening speech that won much applause. "We were right. All the evidence says that we were right."
Far from a victory party, though, the teach-in, organized by an umbrella group called United for Peace and Justice, was intended to marshal the energies of a movement that had seemed to lose its steam once the most intense fighting came to an end.
"The effects of [the war] it are still going on, in many people's lives, especially in Iraq but also here," said David Quick, 25, who coordinates volunteer work for a local charity. "To give up or give in, in the face of mighty forces, like the government or corporations or the conglomerated media is irresponsible."
Along with local activists such as Hagler and Damu Smith, national figures, such as Green Party leader Ralph Nader and former U.S. Democratic representative Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, addressed the audience, their images projected onto a 9-by-12-foot screen.
The organizers said the teach-in was to help build a mass movement opposing not only the war but also current U.S. policy.
"What happened in Iraq was not an accident, was not an anomaly," Leslie Cagan, an organizer, said. "It was part of a total global plan by the Bush administration."
She and others with the organization said they had hoped to stage a series of teach-ins around the country this weekend, but ended up doing just this one. "This is where the Bush administration is. This is where Congress is," Cagan said. "We want to be close to them. We want to send the message that we're not going away."
They said they know that it will not be easy, now that many people are eager to put the conflict behind them.
"We understand it's hard to get hundreds of thousands of people into the streets every week when there's no hot war going on," said Henry Moses, a labor activist and local coordinator for the group. "But if we can maintain the infrastructure that put those people out there," then the pressure for change can be sustained.
Thomas Raney, a 63-year-old retired city worker, said he attended the session because he believes in freedom.
"I believe the Bush administration is copying what Adolph Hitler did, keeping the people scared so they can't think," he said.
In the confusion, he said, the Bush administration is enacting radical, harmful changes, particularly in tax law. "They want to bankrupt the country so they can eliminate all the social programs, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the programs that protect people."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company